Of course, bringing all these superstar components together was not so easy. In a one-on-one interview, "Nashville" creator and executive producer Callie Khouri -- who launched her career 22 years ago with "Thelma and Louise" and won an Oscar for it -- revealed the long and winding road that led to the series, and how it even involved her romantic relationship with one of the show's key players.
Lower those raised eyebrows; Khouri is married to T-Bone Burnett, the iconic producer and recording artist who's serving as the show's executive music director.
"He's super busy, so it's hard to get him to commit to something, especially not knowing if it's going to be a sure thing," Khouri said. "But I think once he saw how the pilot came together, he helped us on it -- getting the mix right, helping with Connie's ("Friday Night Lights" and "American Horror Story") vocals, and all kinds of other stuff. So he was essentially on it by the end of the pilot. Then we just had to wait and see if we were going to get picked up. When we did, he was fully committed."
[Related: Watch full episodes of "Nashville" here]
Speaking of Britton's vocals, who knew she could sing? Not Khouri -- at least at first. "I always knew I wanted Connie to be Rayna Jaymes, so there was no question about that," Khouri said. "I was going to make her sing. We always figured we could put someone else's voice in there, but when we had our first interview, she said, 'You know, it's been a long time since I've been paid to sing.' And we were like, 'She's been paid to sing! Yes!'" Burnett and top vocal coach Valerie Morehouse helped Britton get her voice in shape and help it stay that way.
It took a bit longer to cast the other leads. For the role of Juliette Barnes, the young country pop star who is Rayna's rival, Khouri recalled, "We went through quite a few people, but once Hayden Panettiere auditioned, it was pretty clear that she was going to be Juliette Barnes. She was going to be whether we liked it or not. When you find somebody who is like, 'That is my part,' they're often right, and she has made good on that promise."
It took even longer to cast Scarlett O'Connor, the young newbie who seems to struggle as much with her personal life as she does with her music career. The 23-year-old Aussie actress Clare Bowen could be the best prepared vocalist of the bunch, as she is classically trained, but they had to go through hundreds of auditions to find her.
"I came in (to the casting room) frustrated at the end of the day, pretty much sure we were not going to find anybody, and I asked, 'Anything? Anybody? Please God, please tell me you found somebody,'" Khouri recalled. "And the casting director looked at me and said, 'Come here.' She just gave me a little nod and played the tape; one minute in, we were like, 'Get her! She's incredible!' She reminds me of a young Dolly Parton."
Although Bowen is probably the least known of the leads, it's her songs that are the most downloaded. According to Khouri, "It seems like the songs that have the most emotion attached to them do the best. We've had some purely pop songs that have done well, but I think the Scarlett and Gunner songs -- the ones that people can really feel -- end up being the ones that people really download."
Khouri reported that "Fade Into You" and "If I Didn't Know Better" are among the show's biggest hits, and the soundtrack album actually made it to the top spot, knocking Taylor Swift's "Red" out of number one for a short time.
Revenue from music sales are particularly important to shows like "Nashville," "Smash," and "Glee," because production expenses are so high with licensing fees, performance costs, musicians, voice coaches, complicated post production, and additional producers and engineers. On "Nashville," no expense is spared, as is evidenced by the hiring of Burnett and talented colleagues, such as country music legend Buddy Miller, and using the genre's best musicians.
[Related: Check out our "Nashville" photo gallery]
One of the reasons "Nashville" has caught on, even among those who are not fond of musical series, is that it's all about performance and writing -- characters don't unnaturally break into song in the middle of a conversation.
Khouri notes there are three to five songs per episode to produce. "We find songs that are already written. It's just too hard to have people write the songs specifically for a show. Things change so much as we go from script to draft to draft. So we're constantly looking for songs, and we write towards the songs that we love."
So, in addition to more great country music, what can we expect from upcoming episodes of "Nashville"? "It plays out like a country song," Khouri says. "There's heartbreak; there's cryin'; there's drinkin'. The whole notion is to live in the world of country music, so you'll get everything that goes along with that."
"Nashville" airs Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on ABC.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Callie Khouri
- Connie Britton